According to the McKinsey & Company article, “Unlocking the full potential of women in the U.S. economy,” women are playing an increasingly important role in our economy:
Women have been a growing factor in the success of the US economy since the 1970s. Indeed, the additional productive power of women entering the workforce from 1970 until today accounts for about a quarter of current GDP. Still, the full potential of women in the workforce has yet to be tapped. As the US struggles to sustain historic GDP growth rates, it is critically important to bring more women into the workforce and fully deploy high-skill women to drive productivity improvement.
The Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater New York and the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC) have taken note and launched the Venture Capital Access Program, which aims to fuel job creation and improve our economy by providing women and minority entrepreneurs access to financial support and business advice. Through the program, these entrepreneurs can get a critique of their business plans, a screening for venture capital access and other business resources for just $500.
But there are many more opportunities and resources available for woman entrepreneurs. This spring, I heard Bridget Bean, District Director of the Washington Metropolitan District Office for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), speak at a Small and Emerging Contractors Advisory Forum (SECAF) event. When highlighting SBA’s 8(m) Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Program, she said only 9,000 businesses have registered in SBA’s database, a required step for bidding on federal contract work as a WOSB. The 8(m) program allows contracting officers (COs) to set aside certain-sized procurements for WOSBs when the CO has a reasonable expectation that at least two WOSBs will submit offers to sell goods and services to the federal government. The goal of the program is to increase the percentage of federal contracts that are awarded to WOSBs. With shrinking federal procurement dollars available to contractors, why haven’t more WOSBs registered to take advantage of a program that could direct more of this money their way?
Ms. Bean said many women business owners are daunted by the certification process for SBA’s WOSB Program. During many industry events I have attended, I spoke with several people who have expressed the same thing. However, after guiding ENC Strategy through the certification process, I have found it’s not as difficult as it seems. Businesses can either self-certify using the instructions in SBA’s WOSB Compliance Guide or you can hire one of the four SBA-approved Third Party Certifiers.
The other issue inhibiting greater use of the program is the lack of awareness among COs. Ms. Bean, while acknowledging SBA’s role in educating COs about how to use 8(m), also encourages WOSBs to learn how to discuss this program with procurement workers. See SBA’s Contracting Officer’s Guide to the WOSB Program for more information.
Perhaps you don’t qualify for the WOSB Program, but you still have a product or service that would benefit the federal government or commercial customers. There are many free or low-fee resources to help you. SECAF holds regular breakfast sessions with excellent speakers for networking, education and advocacy. Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) is a national advocacy group for women and minorities in business and offers training across a range of topics such as technology and capital, as well as its Give Me 5 training programs specifically for women in federal contracting.
For prospective businesses in northern Virginia, there is the Women’s Business Center of Northern Virginia, which provides a host of resources for women entrepreneurs. The center is funded in part by the SBA, which has a 100 such centers throughout the country.
And don’t overlook free resources for information in your specific market niche. LinkedIn has industry groups which offer networking opportunities and insights about your market and operational and infrastructure issues. Paid advisors such as accountants and attorneys can help you too but make sure to invest the time to choose advisors who work with your size firm and in your market niche. Besides being willing to devote attention to smaller businesses, they will know the minefields to avoid and the best practices within your industry.
Image courtesy of flickr user Victor1558